WAITING in the wet yard of the test centre, Victor Finch thought again about ‘the look’.
How weary he was of seeing it… on all of their faces.
So innocent, so puppy-dog, so very ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be all right. You can trust m-e-e’.
But – of course – he couldn’t trust them. He knew that.
And they knew it, too.
In a sense, that made him their enabler… for everything that came later… everything they did.
Well, all right, it could be argued that he had no choice, no alternative, no real say in the matter, not if things were done by the book. And he’d always been one for doing things by the book.
But that still didn’t stop him being their… agent, as it were – the one who – for years – had given them the green light… had handed them the keys.
‘Good afternoon,’ said Victor. ‘Mr… Scrote, is it? Would you be kind enough to read me the registration of that red car, Mr Scrote, parked by the wall, over there? Good. Excellent. Thank you very much. Well now, I think we’re ready for the off.’
And here was another one. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Not for the next twenty-six minutes, anyway. But afterwards…
Give the lad half an hour and he’d be shot of the manufacturer’s exhaust… swapping it for a tail-pipe that resembled an artillery piece, emitting – in innocent neighbourhoods – the avenging rumble of a low-flying Wellington bomber. His mutant vehicle would doubtless quickly sprout more fins than a whole shoal of barracudas. Not to mention a new number plate that proclaimed to the world 1MA WANK4 (or something of similar subtlety) – bought with a credit card that had probably been pinched.
But for now… never mind his earring, his hair gel, his chewed nails and his neck tattoo… he – young Mr Scrote here… pudgy paws on the wheel – was a choirboy, a cherub, so neatly starched and pressed. He even knew his Ps and Qs.
Victor had seen so many over the years – the whole spectrum: highly likely louts such as the one now sitting next to him… posh boys, who, despite appearances, often proved just as bad… girls who, beneath multiple coats of make-up, were at heart the foulest-mouthed Medusas… ‘uni’ kids who, never mind being the apples of their grandparents’ eyes, showed themselves – all too regularly – to be rotten to the core… others that were the offspring of parents he’d previously passed or failed… even one or two who – after the courts had finally caught up with them – had been ordered to re-take their tests.
And the danger sign… the red flag… was always the same: their meekness, their mildness, their faux return to a lost world of better manners. ‘No need to worry about me, Mister Examiner. I’ll be all right. I won’t let you down. Promise.’
Victor’s mind wandered to the letter. He could have done without it: on this day – his last day, after all these years. What a thing to receive… before his final shift! Welcome – or perhaps not – to your retirement. And in such an ordinary envelope, lying there in the hall. ‘Dear Mr Finch…’
They could have given him a bit more time… couldn’t they?
‘Thank you, Mr Scrote,’ said Victor. ‘Now, I’d like you to bring the car to a stop and, if you would please, turn it in the road, between the kerbs, with respect for any oncoming vehicles, so that we end up facing the opposite direction.’
Victor wondered what – in time – this young idiot might do, given the chance. How many zebra crossings he’d race over while waving the finger at a waiting pensioner or mother with a pram. How much ‘crack’ he’d smoke or cocaine he’d shove up his pimply nose before roaring to a ‘convenience store’ for whatever it was kids drank these days: vodka, cider, something fizzy and fashionable that the makers laughably called beer. And – later – how many innocents young Mr Scrote would skittle as he mounted the pavement while jabbering inanely on his mobile phone, or showing-off to some semi-educated under-age girl sitting next to him, or being chased – pointlessly – by the police (for all that might eventually happen to him, which would – in the end – be next to nothing, of course).
‘Thank you, Mr Scrote,’ said Victor. ‘And now, when it’s safe to do so, I’d like you to pull into the flow of the traffic and proceed, at an appropriate speed, to the next junction.’
And his scorecard, so far?
The lad drove like a lamb… faultless – of course.
A necessity of the job was insurance. Accidents happened. Little old ladies on their twenty-first test: it wasn’t a myth. You – and, by extension, your family – were fully covered by the agency – for all eventualities. Had to be. No one in their right mind would do the job for anything less.
The letter, thought Victor.
How would he ever tell Marjorie? How would she… manage?
Marjorie… who sometimes asked (when a particularly bad case – a drunk-driver, a vile van man, some moronic and morally deficient young speed merchant – made the radio, paper or local TV), ‘Was he one of yours, Vic?’
‘Thank you, Mr Scrote,’ said Victor. ‘Now, there’s only one thing remaining, and that’s the emergency stop. When you’re ready, I’d like you to move off and pick up speed and – you see that wall a little way ahead of us? – I’d like you to drive towards it and, when I direct you, I’d like you to bring the car safely to a halt.
‘Okay? Got that?’ asked Victor. ‘Right then, Mr Scrote, off we go. That’s it. Pick up the speed, please. Good. Faster, if you would. Keep going. A little faster now. Towards the wall, that’s it. Maintain your speed. Imagine you’ve passed your test and that you’re out on the open road. Keep going. Don’t worry – I’ll tell you when to—’